Pitmaster LT’s BBQ Sauce has roots in a local pit, but unless you’re a hardcore ‘cuehead or your happened to live off 87th Street in Lenexa, you probably don’t remember LT’s Finest BBQ, which closed in 1999.
“He had great food,” Brian Tooks says of his dad Luther Tooks’ spot. “It was just a classic case of picking a bad location.”
The location wasn’t right, Luther says, but neither was the workload. “I had to get out of the restaurant business because I was retired and I was not accustomed to working that hard,” Luther says. “If I was younger, I could have hung in there, but after thirty years in a business office environment, the work was just too hard.”
After closing LT’s, Luther went back to retirement—until Brian’s wife, Sherin Tooks, told him he should look at selling his sauce. That sauce is now scattered around grocery stores around Kansas City, including Whole Foods, Hy-Vee and Price Chopper. They also got into Dillons, the Kroger division that covers most of Kansas.
And it could grow from there.
Pitmaster LT’s was recently selected to roll out at a hundred Walmarts after being given a ‘golden ticket’ at the megaretailer’s annual Open Call in Bentonville, Arkansas. Think of the open call like Shark Tank: Budding entrepreneurs get a half-hour to pitch their products to Walmart and/or Sam’s Club buyers as part of the company’s efforts to rebuild American manufacturing. The businesses selected are put on the fast track to financial stability, says Brian, who has seen the program play out in his other job as a trademark and patent attorney.
Pitmaster LT’s sauce will hit Walmart shelves in March, at the start of the next barbecue season. What makes the sauce stand out from the thousands of competitors on the market? Brian and Luther say their tomato-based sauce has “a very high-quality taste” and have marketed it, in part, on “what’s not in it.”
“We’ve very conspicuously said on the label that it’s an all-natural sauce, and we call out the junk ingredients that are not contained in the product—high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives, nuts, dairy, gluten,” Brain says. “We like to think it’s a very distinctly Kansas City-style sauce.”
It’s also designed to be “all-purpose.” I bought a bottle of LT’s sauce and found it hard to describe by picking out flavors—as it’s designed to be. The idea is to make barbecue sauce that tastes like barbecue sauce.
“I developed a sauce that doesn’t have any dominating ingredient,” Luther says. “Unlike a mustard-based barbecue sauce, unlike a vinegar-based barbecue sauce, unlike a thick tomato sauce made with lots of hickory—ours has all of those things in it but no one ingredient dominates the taste. So that expands the appeal.”
“I don’t think you would ever tire of it,” Brian says. “I think it pairs with everything on any day. So in that sense, it has the potential to gain national appeal because it’s not a niche barbecue sauce.”
If there is a niche audience that the sauce does especially appeal to, it’s the pickiest and most forceful one of all: children.
“We learned over the years, from being in the restaurant business, that kids were our number one fans,” Luthur says. “Kids seemed to really like it.”